Hospital funding issues put local MPs on the spot

 
Karen Lumley MP Redditch's Conservative MP Karen Lumley is fighting closure of the A&E unit at Alexandra Hospital

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"It's PFI or bust!" So said the then newly-appointed Labour health minister Alan Milburn back in 1997.

The irony is that the private finance initiative was devised by the previous Conservative administration.

But it was Labour who adopted it with a will, as a way of replacing crumbling or outdated hospital buildings with gleaming 'superhospitals' including Birmingham's 'new QE' and the Royal Worcestershire Hospital at Ronkswood.

And so the wheel of politics goes round and round, because it is now the turn of Conservative MPs to target Labour over what they say is the burden of debts in a lengthening list of NHS trusts caused in no small measure by, you guessed it, PFI projects introduced under Labour.

Critics of PFI warned for years these schemes were, in effect, mortgaging the future of the health service.

But the chief executive of University Hospitals Birmingham, Dame Julie Moore, replied that many homeowners would consider they had negotiated a very good deal if their mortgage companies agreed to look after their houses, mend their fences and mow their lawns.

Now though, comes a further political twist.

Start Quote

The danger is our people will have nowhere to go in an emergency. Birmingham's QE is 12 miles away. We need to retain emergency services in Redditch.”

End Quote Karen Lumley MP (Con) Redditch

Many Conservative MPs were elected on a promise to defend their local hospital services. You can see why, after the political trauma in Kidderminster which led to Dr Richard Taylor's election 11 years ago as the Independent MP for Wyre Forest, and the scandal over unexpectedly high death rates at Stafford Hospital which contributed to the downfall there of Labour's David Kidney in Stafford in 2010.

But surely the coalition government promised to 'ring fence' NHS budgets, so that question of 'defending hospitals' need not arise?

Try saying that to the latest MP in the frontline of a developing hospital issue - Karen Lumley, the Conservative MP for Redditch. The closure of the accident and emergency unit at the town's Alexandra Hospital is among the options being considered to achieve savings across Worcestershire's hospitals totalling £50m.

Almost 6,000 people signed a petition last weekend alone as the campaign gathers pace to save Redditch's A&E.

Karen Lumley tells us: "The danger is our people will have nowhere to go in an emergency. Birmingham's QE is 12 miles away. We need to retain emergency services in Redditch."

So how can this be happening when NHS budgets are supposed to be protected?

Local health managers say even within ring-fenced budgets, the measures are necessary to cope with the pressures of an ageing population and with what they call the legacy of debts caused (and I'm sure you are ahead of me here) by private finance initiatives.

I will be talking live to Karen Lumley on this weekend's Sunday Politics.

We will also be joined by Labour's deputy leader in the Lords, and former health minister and, before that, director of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

And I hope you will join me too, at our usual time of 1200 BST on BBC One on Sunday, 1 July 2012.

 
Patrick Burns, Political editor, Midlands Article written by Patrick Burns Patrick Burns Political editor, Midlands

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    Patrick's post goes to the heart of the problem. NHS funding in Worcestershire squeezed by PFI debts running at £30million a year, means senior clinicians see no option but to Cuts Services. Karen Lumley MP then ends up joining the Save The Alex Rally and holding a Banner saying 'Public Health NOT Private Wealth!" Karen is a Tory facing big contradictions! Only PFI DEFAULT can SaveTheAlex

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    Timely intervention is key to survival in heart attack and stroke. My spouse suffered a heart attack in 2007, which did not register on the GP's or the emergency services ECG's, but emergency services took him to Alexandra. We are grateful to the A&E services there for realising that he was in danger and warding him before transfer to Queen Elizabeth, where he spent 5 weeks and had triple bypass.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    Interesting article, I notice that Burns blames Labour for PFI but completely ignores that the Conservative Party have used them as a means to finance several projects, such as Gove's school building project, so shoddy journalism or political bias?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    Wonderif - these PFI debts are included in the country's accounts?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    You can't be the country spending the lowest % of GDP on healthcare forever and expect to be one of the best services in the world.

    PFI was a Tory gimmick expanded by Labour.

    In the last decade alone there have been advances that require huge capital investment, sadly health ministers have failed to grapple with this or the treasury so we have widespread failure of basic care & modernisation

  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    dont you find it odd that billions can be pumped into banks at 0.5 % under quantitive easing but hospitals have pfi's at outrageous rates over 30 years so that they are left with no cash to meet medical objectives! why cant bank of england provide cash at 0.5% interest? not rocket science is it?

 

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